Tying Corporate ESG Goals to Executive Compensation

Executive Compensation

(Credit: Canva Pro)

by | Feb 2, 2023

Executive Compensation

(Credit: Canva Pro)

Companies can tie executive pay to Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) goals by including ESG performance targets, metrics, and objectives as part of the executive’s performance-based compensation, such as bonuses or equity awards. This type of compensation aligns the financial incentives of employees with the company’s commitment to sustainability and responsible corporate behavior and can help to drive more effective and focused efforts towards ESG performance. Examples include; setting specific ESG targets, incorporating metrics into evaluations, and including ESG considerations in stock option grants.


  • Carbon emissions reduction: Setting targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, such as reducing emissions by a certain percentage over a set time period.
  • Renewable energy use: Establishing targets for increasing the use of renewable energy, such as sourcing a certain percentage of energy from renewable sources.
  • Diversity and inclusion: Setting targets for promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, such as increasing the representation of underrepresented groups in leadership positions.
  • Employee engagement: Setting targets for improving employee engagement and well-being, such as increasing employee satisfaction and reducing turnover.
  • Corporate governance: Establishing targets for improving corporate governance practices, such as increasing the number of independent directors on the board or implementing robust risk management practices.


  • Sustainability performance: Measuring a company’s progress on sustainability initiatives and goals such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, conserving energy, and reducing waste.
  • Environmental and social impact: Assessing the company’s impact on the environment and society, such as the number of carbon emissions saved, the number of people affected by a project, and the number of communities impacted.
  • Reputation and brand value: Evaluating the company’s reputation and brand value, including how stakeholders perceive the company’s ESG practices, and the company’s ranking on ESG indexes.
  • Stakeholder engagement: Assessing the company’s engagement with stakeholders, including customers, employees, suppliers, and investors, and their views on the company’s ESG practices.
  • ESG risk management: Evaluating the company’s ability to identify and manage ESG risks, such as risks related to climate change, social issues, and governance practices.

Stock Options

  • Performance-based stock options: A portion of the executive’s stock options can be linked to specific ESG performance targets. For example, if the company achieves its carbon emissions reduction target, the executive may receive an additional grant of stock options.
  • Vesting based on ESG performance: The vesting of executive stock options can be linked to ESG performance targets resulting in the executive receiving a portion of the stock options only if the company meets specific ESG targets.
  • ESG-weighted stock options: The executive’s stock options can be weighted to give more value to ESG performance. For example, the executive’s stock options can have a higher strike price if the company performs well on ESG metrics.

Both Europe and the United States have taken steps to link executive compensation to ESG goals, but there are some differences in approach between the two regions. According to a recently published study by WTW,  77% of major companies across North America and Europe include ESG metrics in their executive incentive plans, an increase from 69% last year. The prevalence of environmental metrics, most notably climate transition such as carbon emission reduction, has increased sharply over the past year. Almost two-thirds of companies in Europe and the U.K.—including many that have already set targets for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions—include environmental metrics in executive incentive schemes (which determine bonuses).

In Europe, there is a growing trend toward using ESG performance as a factor in determining executive pay. The European Union has introduced regulations that require companies to report on their ESG performance and how it is linked to executive pay.

In the United States, linking executive pay to ESG goals is still in its early stages, but there is growing interest in the topic. Some companies have started using ESG metrics in their compensation plans, but it is not yet a widespread practice. There is also a growing trend toward incorporating ESG considerations into shareholder proposals, which can put pressure on companies to link executive pay to ESG goals.

A starting point – what questions should be answered prior to integrating ESG goals and executive compensation?

  • What is in the best interests of all the business stakeholders—would ESG metrics help or hinder the business’s ability to serve all its stakeholders?
  • Is management already held accountable for prioritizing sustainability practices through the current strategy, culture, and business processes, or is something more needed?
  • Is there a clear enough line of sight from ESG initiatives to business results and stakeholder value creation, or would linking ESG metrics to executive pay provide greater clarity?

Tying executive pay to ESG goals helps to align the executive’s financial incentives with the company’s sustainability initiatives and objectives. This can lead to more effective and focused efforts towards ESG performance, as well as help to build trust with stakeholders who are increasingly focused on the role of business in promoting sustainable development.

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